USA Today: How The Feds Turned Covid Testing Into a Fiasco

photo by James Bovard, 2022

USA TODAY,  January 27, 2022

Who screwed up COVID-19 testing? Blame Trump, Biden and our health care bureaucracy.

Under Donald Trump, the CDC sent out poorly designed, contaminated tests that recorded false readings. Under Joe Biden, testing is still in shambles.

James Bovard Opinion columnist

On a bitter cold afternoon last Friday, lines of people awaiting free COVID-19 tests stretched around the block at a public library in Rockville, Maryland. Looking at the scene reminded me of seeing East Germans lined up in endless queues to receive their potato and sauerkraut rations. But few of the people docilely waiting in Rockville recognized that their plight was the latest of a long series of federal fiascos hatched by a federal agency headquartered a few miles away.

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, President Donald Trump ludicrously proclaimed that “anybody that wants a test can get a test.” That was baloney then and, unfortunately, despite a barrage of political promises in the meantime, it is still malarkey today.

The failure to provide promised tests

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration and the Trump administration policymakers blocked the speedy development and deployment of private testing that could have provided Americans with far better awareness to the perils they faced. Instead, the CDC sent out poorly designed, contaminated tests to health departments that gave false readings. (Trump boasted those tests were “perfect.”)

As The New York Times reported last month, “The distribution of faulty test kits, at a time when no other tests were authorized, set back health officials’ efforts to detect and track the virus.”

During the 2020 presidential campaign, Biden hammered Trump’s perceived negligence and rallied voters by promising: “I will shut down the virus.” In June 2020, Biden promised to set up a “pandemic testing board” along the lines of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s War Production Board.

A Biden campaign plan promised “to massively surge a nationwide campaign and guarantee regular, reliable, and free access to testing.” Shortly before Election Day, Biden declared that America needed “faster, cheaper screening tests that you could take right at home or in school. Look, what we have right now isn’t anywhere near good enough.”

In his first week in office, Biden created the COVID-19 Pandemic Testing Board. A week later, Biden promised that congressional enactment of his American Rescue Plan legislation would “ramp up testing.” In his televised speech on the first anniversary of COVID lockdowns on March 11, Biden promised, “We continue to work on making at-home testing available.”

However, when a team of health agency officials pushed the White House to purchase millions of rapid COVID-19 tests, the administration rebuffed the proposal. Then, last July, Biden promised, “We’re going to deploy things like testing to expand detection of the virus.”

As the delta variant spurred a COVID-19 surge, Biden promised in September that he was “taking steps to make testing more available, more affordable” so that “every American, no matter their income, can access free and convenient tests.

More from James Bovard:COVID-positive nurses are in our hospitals. But Biden’s mandate forbids unvaccinated ones.

The following month, top health experts from Harvard and private foundations pushed the Biden administration to purchase 700 million COVID-19 test kits a month to distribute to Americans in December ahead of a winter surge. Vanity Fair exposed the details of how his officials nixed the plan, but Biden denied last month that he had rejected such a proposal.

A Biden administration official told The Washington Post that “White House health aides believed that once Americans were vaccinated, few would need testing.” The administration’s blunders were compounded because the CDC first ignored and then downplayed the surge in infections among fully vaccinated Americans.

The Biden team continued to offer wishful thinking in lieu of tests. At a White House briefing on Dec. 7, Biden COVID czar Jeff Zients proclaimed, “Everyone in America has access to free testing in an efficient and effective way, and we’ve developed multiple access points for free testing.”

Public control of distribution is failing

After chaos broke out in December with soaring infection rates and severe shortages of testing, Biden declared on Jan. 4: “I know this remains frustrating – believe me, it’s frustrating to me – but we’re making improvements (on testing). Look, we have more capacity for in-person tests, and we should see waiting lines shorten and more appointments freed up.”

Biden boasted of requiring private insurance companies to reimburse people for the cost of at-home tests, but that is scant consolation to people who cannot find tests anywhere.

The U.S. Postal Service will begin delivering COVID-19 test kits to Americans who filed online requests, but they will arrive long after the omicron variant set records for infections and disrupted Americans’ lives.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government has relied on a command-and-control approach that minimizes private innovation and maximizes dependency on federal bureaucrats. As ProPublica recently detailed, “Many companies with at-home tests have been stymied by an FDA review process that has flummoxed experts and even caused one agency reviewer to quit in frustration.”

David Paltiel, a professor at the Yale School of Public Health, groused, “It’s an outrage that rapid tests aren’t dirt cheap and plentiful on grocery store shelves” – as they are in South Korea and many other nations where private companies were not paralyzed by pointless bureaucratic edicts.

Scott Lincicome, a Duke Law School lecturer, recently noted in Barron’s that the latest “fix” is “is actually the president’s sixth promise to subsidize and plan our way to testing abundance.” Germany permits sales of more than 60 rapid COVID-19 tests, “including several made in the United States for export only.” Germans can easily buy tests for a dollar while many Americans can’t find and purchase a test at any price.

The FDA has “never been enthusiastic about letting people test themselves,” ProPublica reports. “In the 1980s, the FDA banned home tests for HIV on the grounds that people who tested positive might do harm to themselves if they did not receive simultaneous counseling. In the 2010s, the agency cracked down on home genetic testing kits, concerned that people might make rash medical decisions as a result.”

David Kessler, who is Biden’s chief science officer for COVID-19 response, epitomized this mindset with his declaration in 1992 when he was FDA commissioner: “If members of our society were empowered to make their own decisions … then the whole rationale for the (FDA) would cease to exist.”

Unfortunately, few Americans recognize the FDA fingerprints on the COVID-19 testing debacle. Federal health agencies have had more blunders than practically anyone expected during this pandemic. The least that Uncle Sam can do is get out of the way of private efforts to help Americans recognize the risks in their own lives.

James Bovard, author of “Attention Deficit Democracy,” is a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors. Follow him on Twitter: @JimBovard

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4 Responses to USA Today: How The Feds Turned Covid Testing Into a Fiasco

  1. JdL January 28, 2022 at 10:28 am #

    Ringo Starr’s quip, “Everything the government touches turns to [substance]” clearly applies here. The following link is almost too close to reality to qualify as satire: https://babylonbee.com/news/to-save-time-biden-to-send-500-million-free-masks-directly-to-landfill .

    I can’t quite see the logic of, “I feel sick and it might be Covid, so I’ll go stand in a long line in the bitter cold to find out if that’s what it is.” If I get sick, I’ll make use of therapeutics I’ve already stockpiled, which are efficacious against many bugs. If by unlucky chance those don’t work and I have to get hospitalized, THEN they can test me for Covid. As they plot their strategy for collecting big bucks when I die.

  2. Jim January 28, 2022 at 11:36 am #

    Ya, I was puzzled at the logic of those folks standing in line. But the line was government-mandated or at least government-provided, so it had to be good for them, right?

    Maybe risk assessment is a dying art?

  3. Barbara Omeara January 29, 2022 at 2:34 pm #

    Here’s what Trump did for first three months of Covid! No doubt he’s solely responsible for 800K American Covid deaths.

    BY”Michael Sweenie-Lane TRUMP COVID-19 TIMELINE
    For the record:
    Dec 18th – House Impeaches Trump
    Jan 8th – First CDC warning
    Jan 9th – Trump campaign rally
    Jan 14th – Trump campaign rally
    Jan 16h – House sends impeachment articles to Senate
    Jan 18th – Trump golfs
    Jan 19th – Trump golfs
    Jan 20th – first case of corona virus in the US, Washington State.
    Jan 22nd – “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China. It’s going to be just fine.”
    Jan- 23rd- Trump received CV19 briefing. He was informed it would spread globally.
    Jan-28th- Trump Received another CV19 and again was informed it was indeed spreading globally.
    Jan 28th – Trump goes to campaign rally
    Jan 30th – Trump campaign rally
    Feb 1st – Trump golfs
    Feb 2nd – “We pretty much shut it down coming in from China.”
    Feb 5th – Senate votes to acquit. Then takes a five-day weekend.
    Feb 10th – Trump campaign rally
    Feb 12th – Dow Jones closes at an all time high of 29,551.42
    Feb 15h – Trump golfs
    Feb 19th – Trump campaign rally
    Feb 20th – Trump campaign rally
    Feb 21st – Trump campaign rally
    Feb 24th – “The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA… Stock Market starting to look very good to me!”
    Feb 25h – “CDC and my Administration are doing a GREAT job of handling Coronavirus.”
    Feb 25h – “I think that’s a problem that’s going to go away… They have studied it. They know very much. In fact, we’re very close to a vaccine.”
    Feb 26th – “The 15 (cases in the US) within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero.”
    Feb 26th – “We’re going very substantially down, not up.” Also “This is a flu. This is like a flu”; “Now, you treat this like a flu”; “It’s a little like the regular flu that we have flu shots for. And we’ll essentially have a flu shot for this in a fairly quick manner.”
    February 27: “One day it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.”
    Feb 28th – “We’re ordering a lot of supplies. We’re ordering a lot of, uh, elements that frankly we wouldn’t be ordering unless it was something like this. But we’re ordering a lot of different elements of medical.”
    Feb 28th – Trump campaign rally
    March 2nd – “You take a solid flu vaccine, you don’t think that could have an impact, or much of an impact, on corona?”
    March 2nd – “A lot of things are happening, a lot of very exciting things are happening and they’re happening very rapidly.”
    March 4: “If we have thousands or hundreds of thousands of people that get better just by, you know, sitting around and even going to work — some of them go to work, but they get better.”
    March 5th – “I NEVER said people that are feeling sick should go to work.”
    March 5th – “The United States… has, as of now, only 129 cases… and 11 deaths. We are working very hard to keep these numbers as low as possible!”
    March 6th – “I think we’re doing a really good job in this country at keeping it down… a tremendous job at keeping it down.”
    March 6th – “Anybody right now, and yesterday, anybody that needs a test gets a test. They’re there. And the tests are beautiful…. the tests are all perfect like the letter was perfect. The transcription was perfect. Right? This was not as perfect as that but pretty good.”
    March 6th – “I like this stuff. I really get it. People are surprised that I understand it… Every one of these doctors said, ‘How do you know so much about this?’ Maybe I have a natural ability. Maybe I should have done that instead of running for president.”
    March 6th – “I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasn’t our fault.”
    March 7th – Trump golfs
    March 8th – Trump golfs
    March 8th – “We have a perfectly coordinated and fine tuned plan at the White House for our attack on CoronaVirus.”
    March 9th – “This blindsided the world.”
    March 13th – [Declared state of emergency]
    March 17th – “This is a pandemic,” Mr. Trump told reporters. “I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.”
    March 18th – “It’s not racist at all. No. Not at all. It comes from China. That’s why. It comes from China. I want to be accurate.”
    March 23th- Dow Jones closes at 18,591.93

    Barbara O’Meara ads to the tracking of how Trump is handling the CV19 from here on! Thanks Michael SWEENIE!

    March 25th – 3.3 million Americans file for unemployment.
    March 30th – Dow Jones closes at 21,917.16
    March 25- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the United States would offer bounties of a combined $55 million for the capture of President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela and four of his top associates. (AMERICAN DEATHS FROM CORONA VIRUS RISES)
    April 2nd – 6.6 million Americans file for unemployment.”
    April 17th – Trump called on his supporters to Liberate States in protest over CoronaVirus Lockdown.
    April 23rd – Trump recommends injecting disinfectants into your bodies, and or, put ultra violate lights inside your bodies to kill CV19!
    May 1st – Trump blames Obama for bad CV19 Tests when the Virus did not exist during Obama’s Terms in office.
    May 4th – Trump attacks George W Bush for A video Bush put out calling for Unity from Americans during the virus. Trump once again calls the CV19 a Hoax! There are 64,987 Dead in America to date!
    May 7th- 33 Million on unemployment and Trump shelves CDC guidelines to open Country.
    May 11th – 80,000 and more are dead from Covid Virus 19! And at the CV19 update with the press on the White House Grounds, Media members are required to wear masks but not Trump! When asked about the 80,000 (and counting) CV19 deaths in America Trump says he doesn’t want to talk about the number of dead Americans, Trump instead, promotes his Golf Course opening up and says “book tees now!”
    May 12th-

    When Trump took Office Obama left him with a Pandemic Preparedness step by step manual and had in place a Team of Pandemic Scientists and Doctors who helped write the Manual! Trump threw the manual in the trash and fired the Pandemic Response Team! When the Pandemic hit America, Trump sold our warehouse filled with PPE TO CHINA AND RUSSIA! The only one to blame for the deaths of Americans due to Corona Virus 19, Is TRUMP! His Racism literally is killing Americans!
    May 21 – Covid Virus American deaths hits near 100 k and instead of meeting with CDC or WHO, Trump huddles with GOP members to discus his re-election!!
    May- 22 State holds an impromptu meeting to declare he will no longer work with Democrats on infrastructure until they
    Stop investigating him. Then he says this in a statement.
    “Well, it turns I’m the most — and I think most of you would agree to this — I’m the most transparent president, probably in the history of this country.” But refuses to release the unredacted Mueller report or his taxes!
    May-22: Trump sends PPE and ventilators to Russia in a 5.6 Million foreign aid package! American Hospitals are without PPE and Ventilators!
    May- 23 Trump golfs while more Americans die from CoronaVirus.
    May- 24 Trump demanded that governors reopen houses of worship “right now” and threatened to “override” them if restrictions aren’t lifted “by this weekend.” Trump, however, does not have the authority to override state orders to close churches or limit the size of services. Hours later, the CDC released “interim guidance” for reopening places of worship after Trump deemed all places of worship “essential.”
    May – 27 Protesters protest George Flynn’s Murder by a Minneapolis Police officer. Trump puts out a tweet, “ When the looting starts the shooting starts”. Twitter flags his tweet as (glorifying violence)
    May- 29 Trump announces US ‘terminating’ relationship with WHO, there are over 103,000 known deaths from CV19 in America to date. Over 1,700,000 known cases!

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